Breaking News! Galvin settles lawsuit over voting access for people with disabilities

Under the agreement, the voter will have to request an electronic ballot via email or phone, with specific information provided to confirm the voter’s identity. They will have to submit a vote-by-mail application, which is available electronically and can be signed electronically. The voter will then be allowed to submit the ballot via mail or email, from an email address provided to a state voting official. The voter will have to sign an affidavit electronically verifying that they are an eligible voter, that they will not vote elsewhere, and that by casting a ballot electronically they are waiving their right to cast a secret ballot.

Read more about the successful lawsuit in CommonWealth Magazine.

” Before the September 1 state primary, the Disability Law Center sued Galvin on behalf of the Bay State Council of the Blind, the Boston Center for Independent Living, and six individual plaintiffs, arguing that no information about this accommodation had been made public. By the time the sides reached an agreement, voters had only three days to request an electronic ballot.  

On October 2, the groups filed a second lawsuit in US District Court arguing the Galvin still had not established a sufficient voting system for people who want to vote remotely due to COVID-19 but cannot use a print ballot. “Remote voting options that allow voters to complete their ballots from the safety of home, like absentee voting and vote by mail, generally involve completion of a paper ballot, which is simply inaccessible to voters with print disabilities,” they wrote in their complaint.”

REV UP Conference a Success

September 11, 2020

COVID, the 2020 Election and Accommodations –   Current Protections and What we need to do moving forward – Discussion followed by a Q&A

  • Michelle Tassinari, Director and Legal Counsel – Secretary of State Elections Division
  • Commissioner Thomas Hicks, Election Assistance Commission  

DLC Wants to Hear from You: What Are Your Concerns  About the Upcoming Election

  • Tatum Pritchard, Director of Litigation, Disability Law Center 
  • Marlene Sallo, Executive Director, Disability Law Center 

The 2020 Election & Why We Need to Get Out the Vote – Discussion/Q&A 

  • Michelle Bishop, Voter Access & Engagement Manager – National Disability Rights Network
  • Rebecca Cokley, Disability Rights Activist/Director – Disability Justice Initiative, Center for American Progress
  • Donna A. Meltzer, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
  • Sandy Ho, Research Associate, Lurie Institute for Disability Policy
Top to Bottom, left to right: Marlene Sallo, ASL Interpreter, Rebecca Cokley, Michelle Bishop, Donna Meltzer, Sandy Ho

REVUP MA Conference

Let’s Get Out the Disability Vote in 2020!

This year has challenged all of us. Now, more than ever, we have to make sure that each and every one of our voices is heard through the Power of the Disability Vote!

Join REV UP MA’s video conference conversation on Friday, September 11 at 10:30 am to discuss the importance of disability advocacy during this year’s Presidential Race and how we can all work to Get Out The Vote!

We want to hear from you – What are your concerns? What issues should the candidates be addressing? How can we make sure that every vote is counted!

Register

Register online at DLC-MA.org.

Agenda

10:30 AM – Welcoming Remarks

10:40 am – 11:45 am – COVID, the 2020 Election and Accommodations – Current Protections and What we need to do moving forward – Discussion followed by a Q&A

  • Michelle Tassinari, Director and Legal Counsel – Secretary of State Elections Division
  • Commissioner Thomas Hicks, Election Assistance Commission

11:45 – 12:15 pm – DLC Wants to Hear From You: What Are Your Concerns About the Upcoming Election

  • Tatum Pritchard, Director of Litigation, Disability Law Center
  • Marlene Sallo, Executive Director, Disability Law Center

12:15 – 12:30 pm – BREAK

12:30 – 2:00 pm – The 2020 Election & Why We Need to Get Out the Vote – Discussion followed by Q&A

  • Michelle Bishop, Voter Access & Engagement Manager – National Disability Rights Network
  • Rebecca Cokley, Disability Rights Activist/Director – Disability Justice Initiative, Center for American Progress
  • Erin Prangley, Director of Policy, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities
  • Sandy Ho, Research Associate, Lurie Institute for Disability Policy

2:00 – 2:30 pm – Closing Remarks

More info

Join the Video Conference Conversation

** Registrants may participate by telephone **

ASL Interpreters and CART have been confirmed.

Please submit any accommodation requests to Amanda at 617-315-4440 or agasparonis@dlc-ma.org by no later than September 4, 2020.

ADA 30 – The Next 30 Years

Reprinted from the Disability Policy Consortium Weekly Newsletter on July 27, 2020 by Colin Killick, Executive Director. The changes he describes will need new legislation and greater enforcement of laws. These needed changes are exactly why you need to vote!

It’s incredible to think that it’s been 30 years since the passage of the ADA. So many eloquent words have been said over the past weeks and months about the titanic impact this law has had in making our world more accessible and quite literally opening doors for our community. We’ve also seen major milestones lately for the public awareness of what it took to make the ADA, and Section 504 before it, happen, most recently in the huge success of Crip Camp. As the world is learning, people with disabilities were not handed our rights, we fought for them, and defeated some of the most powerful commercial interests in this country to make them a reality. We’ve seen that power again and again in the years since, from the fight to save Medicaid in 2017, to defending PCA access and doubling the size of the AHVP program here in Massachusetts. As Bob Kafka put it, “if we believed that ADA is the power and we are the recipients of its strength, rather than we are the power and ADA is a tool for us to use, I fear we may still have a long way to go.”  For all the massive changes the ADA wrought, there are still huge hurdles we have to clear to achieve full equity for our community. Therefore, I want to lay out just two of many areas that I hope we will be looking back on as huge victories 30 years from now.

Genuinely Integrated Accessible Living

Some of the worst discrimination our community still faces is housing segregation. People with disabilities in this country have far less choice in where to live than those who do not have disabilities, for a variety of reasons. Deliberate discrimination on the part of landlords is still a major problem, as testing by HUD and other agencies has shown. This discrimination has also been institutionalized in some public housing systems, including here in Massachusetts, in the form of quotas that limit the percentage of under- age 65 people with disabilities who can live in Elderly-Disabled Housing buildings. These quotas are often the direct result of fearmongering against people with mental health diagnoses, falsely claiming that they pose a danger to their elderly neighbors despite there being no statistical evidence to back this up; I was once in a meeting with a now-former elected official who told us point-blank that if we would just agree that people with mental health diagnoses did not count as disabled for housing purposes, they could give us “all the units for people in wheelchairs you want.” (Obviously, we said no!)

Another major issue in this area is the severe shortage of housing that is both affordable and accessible; the ADA accessibility requirements for apartment buildings largely only applied to those constructed after the bill’s passage. As a result, the older housing stock (including almost all single-family units, which are very rarely required to be accessible) is sometimes affordable but rarely accessible, while the newer housing stock is frequently accessible but very rarely affordable, particularly in major cities where luxury developments constitute a huge share of new construction. Finally, one of the biggest issues is the continuing segregation of millions of people with disabilities into Nursing Homes and other congregate settings–very often not because they need to be there, but because bias in the payment structure of state Medicaid programs means nursing homes are the default for people who need Long-Term Services and Supports, while getting PCAs and other in-home options requires jumping through hoops. That system has robbed people with disabilities of their independence, their dignity, and during this pandemic their very lives.

To address these issues, we’ll need multiple major reforms. State and federal authorities should conduct frequent investigations of landlords for discrimination against disabled renters (using proven effective methods such as paired testers) and punish landlords for discriminatory behavior. We need to end discriminatory quotas in public housing, and create affordable accessible housing via new regulations on housing developers to bolster access (like the AAB Bill we continue to fight for in the legislature) and increase affordability (via tools like AHVP and expanded affordability rules. Finally, we need to put an end to the nursing home as we know it, replacing it with vastly expanded access to in-home supports, and where absolutely necessary, small specialized facilities that have real infection controls, real protections for residents’ rights, and which are geared always to get people back into the community safely as soon as possible.

Breaking the Link Between Disability and Poverty

Arguably the biggest way that people with disabilities are repressed in this country is that we are far more likely than our non-disabled peers to live in poverty. As with the issue of housing, this has multiple causes. Employment discrimination is rampant against our community; according to a landmark 2015 Rutgers study, people who disclose a disability in their cover letter are 26% less likely to get a job interview, even when their disability is totally irrelevant to the position they are applying for. Flaws in our Special Education system also lead to many students with disabilities being segregated from their non-disabled peers and steered away from taking the kinds of risks that could lead to economic independence. Perhaps the biggest barrier to the economic empowerment of people with disabilities, however, are the poverty traps built into our disability benefits programs. As Stapleton et al. lay out here, our federal disability benefits programs are stuck in an outdated and discredited medical model that defines disability as an inability to work, and ties benefits to income in a punitive manner that punishes people for succeeding by yanking away the supports they need to survive.

To fix this problem, we need a variety of policy changes. As in housing, we need aggressive investigation of employment discrimination and punishment of firms that engage in it. We need to shake up the way we educate young people with disabilities to promote inclusion and achievement. Most of all, we need to rethink the way our government thinks about disability. Instead of having a fractured landscape of disability programs with varied and contradictory definitions, we need a single federal disability benefit based on a commonsense definition of disability that does not reply on income. Once someone was enrolled, they would stay involve, and what benefits you received would shift smoothly as your income and the level of support you needed changed, rather than dropping off abruptly to nothing once you crossed a particular threshold. If we succeed in this approach, then thirty years from today we may well be able to look back at a world where the promise of the ADA has been fully achieved, one in which having a disability has no bearing on the likelihood that you will be poor, or homeless, or victimized by violence, but it rather simply one more aspect of your identity as a human being.

Vote By Mail Bill Progresses

Tuesday, July 1, the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted in favor of the conference committee report that was agreed to by the House and the Senate on voting options for our fall elections.

STATE PRIMARY – TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

  • EARLY VOTING BY MAIL: All registered voters will be mailed an absentee ballot request form by July 15. Form will be preprinted with local election official address and no additional postage required;
  • EARLY VOTING IN PERSON: Saturday, August 22 thru Friday, August 28;
  • ELECTION DAY VOTING – Regular polling hours with social distancing/cleaning protocols and streamlined check out procedures.

PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3

  • EARLY VOTING BY MAIL: All registered voters will be mailed an absentee ballot request form by September 14. Form will be preprinted with local election official address and no additional postage required;
  • EARLY VOTING IN PERSON: Saturday, October 17 thru Friday, October 30;
  • ELECTION DAY VOTING – Regular polling hours with social distancing/cleaning protocols and streamlined check out procedures.

The Secretary of State will also set up an online portal no later than October 1, to allow registered voters to request their absentee ballot in lieu of mailing paper form.
A voter who casts their ballot via mail or early voting will be marked as “EV” on voting list.
There are additional provisions allowing town clerks to process (though not tally) early votes as they come in. It also includes a provision to ensure that any necessary changes to polling locations are made at least 20 days prior to election so there is no additional confusion about where to vote, as has happened in other states.

A mailed ballot properly postmarked by Election Day will be counted if received by November 6, 2020

MA Voting Legislation 2020

The big question in 2020 is how can everyone vote safely?

Update June 9, 2020:

Safe voting remains a question.  Massachusetts legislators and Secretary of State Galvin are working hard implement Vote by Mail, extend early voting and add some weekend voting hours at the polling sites. On June 4, 2020, House Bill 4768 was passed and engrossed (To engross a bill is to pass it and send it to the other branch). This bill instructs the Secretary of State to mail all voters an application for a Vote By Mail ballot. It also extends early voting hours. 

Rep. Kay Khan added an amendment to accommodate disabilities which was adopted on Friday, June 4: malegislature.gov/Bills/GetAmendmentContent/191/H4768/15/House/content This amendment allows a voter who needs an accommodation to vote by mail to request an accommodation. The amendment also requires the Secretary of State to grant accommodations that include, but are not limited to, a blank, electronic ballot that can be filled electronically and then printed. The concerns associated with the ballot are the need for the electronic system to be accessible and the need for accommodations for people that do not have access to a printer.

Here is the status as of May 19, 2020.

Massachusetts, like many other states, is scrambling to make sure Vote by Mail will be available for the upcoming September and November elections.  On Thursday, May 14, the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Election Laws held a virtual hearing to hear bills relative to election administration in response to COVID-19. Some of the options provided by these election bills are summarized below.  Each option includes extended days for early voting at location(s) in each city or town.  The bills aim to provide a safe voting environment for  many voters, but not for all voters with disabilities.

  • S2654 – Senator Rausch: This Act would establish vote by mail in 2020. A ballot package would be mailed out to every registered voter; an electronic web portal would allow voters unenrolled in a political party to request a primary election ballot; instructions would be provided in five languages; a person with a physical disability or a non-English speaker could ask for help in filling out the ballot; and, ballots would be certified and mailed in.  H4699 – Representative Roy: This bill mirrors Senator Rausch’s bill on the House side.
  • S2653 – Senator Creem: This Act relates to voting by mail and early voting Election law. Any qualified voter who wants to vote early can file an application or send in a written request for an early voting ballot; ballots are mailed out by local election officials; and, an early voting ballot can be substituted for an absentee ballot.

While these bills were specifically listed on the MA Joint Committee on Election Laws Hearing website, Representative Roy has also filed H4721 which has been referred to the committee on election laws by the House and Senate. This bill sets out to do the following:

  • H4721 – Representative Roy:  This Act relates to early voting and voting by mail in 2020. The Secretary of State would be required to mail out an application packet to every registered voter at the address listed in the registry no less than 40 days in advance of a schedule state primary OR state election; the packet would contain an application for an early vote by mail ballot; instructions would be provided in five languages; and, any qualified voter wanting to early vote by mail would be allowed to file with the voter’s local election official an application for an early voting ballot for the 2020 State Primary and / or General State Election. The Act requires the Secretary of State to implement a system for receiving requests for voting by mail, both electronically via web portal and in hard copy via postal mail. The Act also sets up early voting time frames and in-person voting hours that provides an opportunity to vote, in person, at least one evening each week and one Saturday during both the primary and state election. Finally, the Act states that no later than twenty-eight days before every primary, preliminary election or election, the city or town clerk shall send to each voter whose name appears on the permanently disabled voters’ list an application for an absent voting ballot, and the clerk would be able to complete the application as much as possible except for the voter’s signature.

Questions & concerns with these proposals and the health/safety of voters are:

  • Should the state or towns mail out applications and ballots?  The state has more resources to accomplish this task and would provide consistency across the state.  However, most aspects of voting have always been at the local level.
  • How will towns handle this huge wave of envelopes?  Will additional poll workers be hired to process mail in votes?
  • Who will pay for the additional costs of mailings and expense of additional town workers?
  • Can the post office handle the volume of mail-in ballots?  The post office has been under attack and is a key component in all of these proposals.
  • How can the AutoMark machine be kept safe and sanitized on an ongoing basis if in person voting is allowed?
  • Being that in person voting will also be allowed, how will the polling sites be staffed? How will social distancing requirements be enforced? How do we accommodate people with disabilities under the new CDC safety guidelines?
  • Are there enough supplies in the supply chain to enable local municipalities to abide by CDC & DPH guidelines to regularly clean the polling sites, the equipment?
  • Who will work with the Secretary of State’s Office and the Department of Public Health to make sure that guidance for town clerks are redeveloped to include public health guidelines?

Voting mechanisms in other states:

  • Voting Apps for people with disabilities and overseas voters
  • Drive By voting

Voters with disabilities:

The current legislative proposals do not address accessibility concerns for visually impaired voters and voters who are unable to vote independently.  While the AutoMark machine  accommodates and provides independence to voters with disabilities, COVID-19 will make it physically impossible for voters to use the machine as an accommodation.   In some states, electronic voting has been implemented (where a voter could use their screen reader or other assistive device to vote on their home computer or phone).  However, there needs to be an accessible alternative available to voting in person during COVID-19. People who are blind should have equal access to the ballot and should be able to vote independently in an accessible format. Remote accessible formats allow blind voters to vote independently while safely abiding with social distancing requirements. It is imperative for MA to move quickly during the next six (6) weeks in order to ensure an electronic, accessible voting system for blind registered voters.

While the adoption of  vote by mail and extended early voting, will reduce crowds at polling sites and will technically , make in-person voting on AutoMark machines safer, the disability community should not be required to put their health and safety in peril while non-disabled voters are allowed to vote from home. Voters with disabilities should not be disenfranchised from the voting process due to inaccessible mail in ballots. It is up to Massachusetts to protect the health and welfare of all of its voters and not just some.
 

Bills:

On May 14, Senator Barry Finegold held a hearing on Vote by mail and 3 proposed bills (malegislature.gov).  The 4 hour hearing is still available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BarryFinegoldMA.

Disability issues were brought up at the hearing.
 

Summary:

Voting as usual will certainly not be safe in September, and is unlikely to be safe in November, so legislators have to agree on something.

National Disability Voter Registration Week Training

Every year, the REV UP Campaign coordinates National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) to increase the political power of people with disabilities by sharing resources and getting folks registered to vote. This year, NDVRW is scheduled for July 13-17, 2020. 

States across the country are attempting to hold elections while also navigating a national pandemic. On June 10th, AAPD will bring together local, state, and national leaders to discuss the disability vote and how to get folks registered. Although some states are slowly opening up, we are preparing to support the disability vote through digital/virtual organizing techniques throughout National Disability Voter Registration Week. 

This is a call you don’t want to miss for anyone interested in community organizing, voting, and political/civic engagement of people with disabilities. Please RSVP by June 5, 2020. The NDVRW Training on Digital Organizing will take place on June 10, 2020 at 3pm EST.  Every year, the REV UP Campaign coordinates National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) to increase the political power of people with disabilities by sharing resources and getting folks registered to vote. This year, NDVRW is scheduled for July 13-17, 2020.  Every year, the REV UP Campaign coordinates National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW) to increase the political power of people with disabilities by sharing resources and getting folks registered to vote. This year, NDVRW is scheduled for July 13-17, 2020. 

States across the country are attempting to hold elections while also navigating a national pandemic. On June 10th, AAPD will bring together local, state, and national leaders to discuss the disability vote and how to get folks registered. Although some states are slowly opening up, we are preparing to support the disability vote through digital/virtual organizing techniques throughout National Disability Voter Registration Week. 

POWER THE DISABILITY VOTE Summit

Register for this free, virtual summit on June 22 and June 23.

WASHINGTON, DC – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the disability community is mobilizing. The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) is proud to announce POWER the Disability Vote, a national, non-partisan Disability & Election Virtual Summit. On Monday & Tuesday, June 22 and 23 from noon to 3:45 pm ET on both days and will include panels, presentations, and a national call-to-action to mobilize disability voters and allies.

Disability groups across America are staring down the pandemic with a big question: given COVID-19’s impact on Americans with disabilities and growing numbers of voters who will acquire disabilities, will the Disability Vote be among the deciding factors in the 2020 Election?

YES – According to a 2018 Rutgers University study, 14.3 million people with disabilities voted in 2018, 49.3% of eligible voters with disabilities, compared with 40.8% in 2014. In 2020, over 35 million eligible voters will be people with disabilities, not counting those that may acquire a disability as a result of COVID-19. That number increases to at least 62.7 million when adding voters who have a household member with a disability.

“The surge in turnout among our increasingly visible, vocal, and active voting bloc is only one reason that we need to continue to build the power of the disability vote,” said AAPD President and CEO Maria Town. “We’re also thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed significant gaps and weaknesses in public systems on which people with disabilities, among many others, rely. If elected officials, including the President, want to be elected, and expect our votes, they must address our issues.”

Last year, AAPD began organizing the Summit to galvanize a recent trend among Americans with disabilities: an 8.5% surge in voter turnout in 2018.

AAPD has organized these voters since 2016 through their REV UP (Register! Organize! Vote! Use your Power!) campaign. Currently, over 30 states have partnered with the REV UP network. With the participation of these state coalitions, plus hundreds of Americans with disabilities and the organizations that represent them, AAPD’s POWER Summit will push the Disability Vote forward as the deciding factor of the 2020 Elections.

For information on POWER The Disability Vote, visit https://www.aapd.com/advocacy/voting/revup-summit/. This event was originally scheduled for January 13, 2020 as Elected for Inclusion – the Presidential Forum on Disabilities Issues.

AAPD is a convener, connecter, and catalyst for change, increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities. As one of the leading national cross-disability civil rights organizations, AAPD advocates for the full recognition of rights for the over 60 million Americans with disabilities. AAPD’s programs and initiatives have been effective in mobilizing the disability community through communications advocacy; cultivating and training new and emerging leaders with disabilities through leadership development programs; increasing the political participation of Americans with disabilities and elevating the power of the disability vote through the REV UP (Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!) Campaign; and advancing disability inclusion in the workplace through the Disability Equality Index (DEI) — the nation’s leading corporate benchmarking tool for disability equality and inclusion. To learn more about AAPD, visit www.aapd.com.

AAPD’s REV UP Campaign aims to increase the political participation of the disability community while also engaging candidates and the media on disability issues. AAPD works with state and national coalitions on effective, non-partisan campaigns to address the concerns of people with disabilities, eliminate barriers to voting, promote accessibility of voting; educate communities about issues and candidates; promote turnout of voters with disabilities across the country; and engage candidates and the media on disability issues. 

AAPD/NCIL Presidential Candidate Questionnaire

In an effort to inform the disability community of the presidential candidate’s disability policy positions, initiatives, and priorities, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) have developed a presidential candidate questionnaire. Read more about the question and answers at this link: https://mailchi.mp/aapd/announcing-the-2019-aapd-paul-g-hearne-leadership-awards-193341?e=2c358d98d6